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Election who’s who: parties, powerholders, and potential presidents

Uncertainty surrounds election over who will be able to form coalitions and who will hold the highest office

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01 February 2021 02:35 PM

by

Cillian Shields | Barcelona

Everything lies in the balance in the upcoming election. 

Catalonia goes into the vote without a fully-fledged president since last September when Quim Torra was barred from office for disobedience, and vice president Pere Aragonès has held the functions of the country’s top office on an interim basis since then. 

The current parliament has a slight majority in favour of Catalan independence, with Junts per Catalunya (JxCat, 29 seats), Esquerra Republicana (ERC, 32 seats), and CUP (4 seats), and PDeCAT (5 seats) just about surpassing the 68 seats needed to hold power. 

However, election polls suggest a possible power-shift could be on the cards. A poll funded by the Spanish government (CIS)  estimated that the parties in favour of a Catalan state will gain between 58-71 seats, offering a large margin below the threshold for a majority. 

A week later, another poll funded by the Catalan government (CEO) was released which was a lot more confident of the pro-independence parties keeping hold of power, projecting them to win between 74-77 seats combined. Also, this poll foresees that pro-independence parties would win over 50% of the vote for the first time. 

Even the projected winner of the election isn’t clear. ERC held a considerable lead for most of the past year when talk of a snap election was first heard in parliament debates. But in recent weeks, momentum has gone the way of the Socialists (PSC-Units) after Spain’s former health minister, Salvador Illa, announced he would be the frontrunner for the party and bid for the presidency of Catalonia. While the CIS poll indicates that the Socialists will be neck-and-neck with ERC, the CEO poll places the unionists considerably behind the pro-independence party.

Elsewhere, the party that held the presidency up until Torra’s disqualification, JxCat, have named Laura Borràs as their candidate for the top office, meaning she could become the first woman president in Catalonia’s history, after a succession of 131 men previously. 

Meanwhile, the party with the biggest number of seats in parliament currently, Ciudadanos (Cs, 36 seats), are expected to take a big hit during the next vote, with forecasts saying they are likely to win 13-15 seats. 

So who are the parties vying for seats in the 2021 Catalan election?

Esquerra Republicana (ERC)

Led by current vice president with acting functions of the presidency Pere Aragonès, ERC are one of the two parties currently governing Catalonia, along with JxCat. Together, the parties formed the coalition government that orchestrated the 2017 independence push, and as a result, some of their most prominent figureheads are currently serving lengthy prison sentences or are in exile. 

A repeat of the coalition with JxCat is difficult, as the relationship between the two parties has deteriorated significantly over the last couple of years, with various discrepancies over how to engage with Spain. 

ERC are a left-wing, pro-independence, and pro-European party. They prioritize dialogue with Spain in an attempt to agree on a framework for establishing an independent Catalan republic. 

While they won fewer votes than JxCat in the previous elections, polls suggest they are on course to outdo their pro-independence rivals, meaning that ERC will likely name Aragonès president in the event that the independence bloc wins a majority in the parliament again.

Polls say ERC are likely to win 30-35 seats (CIS Spanish poll) or 34-35 (CEO Catalan poll) in this election. 

Junts per Catalunya (JxCat)

Government partners with ERC, JxCat were officially founded as a political party in July, having formally split with PDeCAT. The party are led by former president Carles Puigdemont, who is running as their number one candidate in this election despite living in exile in Belgium since the fallout of the 2017 independence push. 

The party has named Laura Borràs, currently an MP in the Spanish Congress, as their candidate for the presidency. If she wins, she would be the first woman to hold Catalonia’s highest office in the history of the post. 

A repeat of the coalition with ERC is difficult, as the relationship between the two parties has deteriorated significantly over the last couple of years, with various discrepancies over how to engage with Spain. 

A centre-right group, Junts will likely receive votes from supporters of the historic Convergència CDC party that ruled Catalonia for many years following the return to democracy in the 1970s. They are a liberal, pro-European formation, and favour what they call a “peaceful confrontational” approach to engaging with Spain.

Polls say JxCat are likely to win 20-27 seats (CIS) or 32-34 (CEO) in the election.

Socialist party (PSC)

The dynamic for the Socialist party for this election changed completely in late December when Salvador Illa, Spain’s health minister throughout the pandemic, announced he would be the frontrunner and the party’s presidential candidate for this vote. Since the announcement, the Socialists have surged in polls and now appear to be neck-and-neck with ERC to become the overall winner of the election. 

The party have a left-leaning social-democrat ideology, pro-European, and pro-Spanish unity but prioritise engaging in dialogue with the pro-independence bloc while also criticizing their aims. PSC are expected to become the largest unionist voice in the Catalan parliament following the election, taking many seats from Ciudadanos. 

The Socialists are projected to win 31-33 seats (CIS) or 26-29 (CEO) in this election. 

Ciudadanos (Cs)

In the last election, the unionist vote rallied around Ciudadanos, hoping to form a unionist majority in parliament and quell the independence movement. Cs took 36 seats and currently have more seats than any other party in the chamber. However, their support base looks largely set to abandon the party in favour of other unionist voices both left and right that are projected to gain seats, such as the Socialists, the People’s Party, and the far-right Vox.

Carlos Carrizosa, who has led the opposition in parliament since 2017, is the presidential candidate for the centre-right, liberal party. They are pro-European and are harsh critics of the independence movement, refusing to engage in dialogue with them. 

Ciudadanos are expected to win 13-15 seats (CIS) or 12-13 (CEO) in the election.

Catalunya en Comú – Podem (CatECP)

The only party not strictly aligned in the independence question, Catalunya en Comú - Podem are the Catalan branch of the left-wing Podemos party, in coalition with the Socialists in the Spanish government. The group was formed out of anti-austerity anger following the handling of the 2008 financial crisis which hit Spain badly. 

The party are in favour of self-determination and would allow the Catalan people the right to decide for themselves to split from Spain or remain united, although their position on the subject is closer to remaining as part of Spain. CatECP are the parliamentary branch of the party of Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona. 

Led by Jéssica Albiach, the party holds a left-wing, anti-globalization, feminist, republican ideology. CatECP could play a role in a potential left-wing coalition governing Catalonia following the election. They are set to win 9-12 seats (CIS) or 6-8 (CEO). 

Candidatura d'Unitat Popular + Guanyem (CUP)

Far-left CUP are a pro-independence party that make up part of the opposition in the current Catalan parliament. Despite being in the opposition, they ensured that the government would be a pro-independence bloc between ERC and JxCat following the past two elections in 2015 and 2017. The party’s presidential candidate is Dolors Sabater, the former mayor of Badalona. 

CUP are a socialist, feminist, anti-capitalist party, Eurosceptical and favour direct democracy actions. They are also avowedly in favour of an independent ‘Catalan Countries,’ a historical vision of an independent state comprising of not only Catalonia but Valencia and the Balearic Islands too, regions which share close cultural and linguistic ties with Catalonia. 

CUP are expected to take 8-11 parliamentary seats (CIS) or 8 (CEO) in this election.

People's Party (PP)

The Catalan branch of historically one of the biggest parties in Spain, the People’s Party, are projected to grow in the Catalan chamber this election. Currently, they play a minor role in opposition with only 4 seats, but are expected to pick up more due to the fall of Ciudadanos. 

Mariano Rajoy was the last leader of the People’s Party on a Spain-wide level to run the country, and it was during his legislature that the 2017 independence push took place, eventually ending with Rajoy dissolving Catalan autonomy entirely by applying direct rule article 155 of the Spanish constitution, leaving Catalonia without a parliament or government for some months.

The party are staunchly against independence and refuse to engage in dialogue on the matter. Their ideology can be defined as conservative, Christian democracy, and Spanish unionism. They are also pro-European union and are a part of the EU Parliament group, European People’s Party. 

Alejandro Fernández is the party’s candidate for president and they are likely to win around 7 seats (CIS) or 9 (CEO). 

Vox

In Vox, a far-right party are expected to enter the Catalan parliament for the first time ever. A newcomer in Spanish politics having only been founded in 2013 after a schism in the People’s Party, Vox went on to become the third-largest party in Spain following the 2019 elections. 

They are an ultranationalist, nationally and socially conservative party with anti-immigration, economic liberalist, and Eurosceptic stances. 

For the Catalan elections, they will be led by Ignacio Garriga and are projected to pick up 6-10 seats (CIS) or 5-6 (CEO). 

Catalan European Democratic Party (PDeCAT)

On the other side of the Junts per Catalunya split competing in this election will be PDeCAT, led by former Catalan business minister Àngels Chacón. Most of the party’s historic supporters are expected to vote for JxCat this election, led by the more recognisable figures of Carles Puigdemont and Laura Borràs, but some voters will still side with the historic name of PDeCAT which will likely split the pro-independence centre-right vote. 

The party stands for Liberalism and is in favour of a Catalan republic, but favour a more moderate approach compared to JxCat. They are confident of making it to the parliament but will in most likelihood only play a supporting role to the larger pro-independence bloc if they make it. 

Polls don’t forecast them winning a seat.

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  • The Catalan Parliament during a vote on October 9, 2020 (photo by Gerard Artigas)

  • The Catalan Parliament during a vote on October 9, 2020 (photo by Gerard Artigas)

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